Month: April 2018

Sapsucker Woods, Report 4-2018

We experienced March weather for much of this April. The temperature rarely exceeded 40° at its highest, and a dull overcast ruled the sky, often precipitating cold rain or light snow. The ground remained frozen. Crocuses bloomed late. Tree blossom growth stymied.

Still the birds migrated.

I started full-time for state parks in the beginning of April. Since I worked in maintenance, I was outside. Miserable as it was most of time, working in cold or cold/wet weather, I could witness early migration. An Eastern Phoebe sang around the shop on my first day. Common Loons – donned in full breeding plumage – wailed and yodeled near the waterfront of Cayuga Lake. Common Grackles crackled and flew about everywhere. Robins yeeped and foraged on the lawns. Belted Kingfishers dove for fish at the marina, also where Great Blue Herons hunched. An Osprey struggled against 40 MPH winds to fly north. Dozens of Tree Swallows flycatched on the lake. The same flock of Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets and a lone Brown Creeper hung around the campground for a few days in a row. A small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers blazed through the small trees by the bathhouse. And I heard my First of Year Chipping Sparrow on the 12th, and my first Field Sparrow on the 20th.

This past weekend, we got spring. The temperature finally exceeded 45°. According to our office manager (I forgot where she pulled the statistic from), this was the first weekend since December 17 that had clear skies both days. The park patrons certainly took advantage.

I planned to visit Sapsucker Woods on my next day off, this Monday. The spring weather continued. Full sun. Blue sky. I didn’t have to layer as much. It took some willpower to not linger by the Lab entrance and feeders – a sparrow corner this morning. Song, white-throated, junco, tree, and 2 fields. Also present were numerous blackbirds, grackles, goldfinches, and house finches. The latter two’s sweet rolling songs filled the air.

I followed my usual route: the Wilson Trail around the pond. In the woods, oaks and other trees had fully developed buds. The old leaves of the beeches shook in the breeze. I disturbed a Rusty Blackbird foraging in the swamp as I ambled on the boardwalk. Farther into the woods, the quiet settled for only a little while. Chipmunks, gray squirrels, and red squirrels scurried in the leaf litter. A small flock of titmice and Golden-crowed Kinglets fluttered by. A Wood Duck briefly called, presumably a flyover. Various woodpecker drums echoed. A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker cried and immediately flew into view. I watched her climb the trunk, but she flitted away seconds later. I tried to get back on her when a circling Broad-winged Hawk soared into my bins field, banded tail was fully fanned out, reddish tan breast bright in the sunlight. Ecstatic at this surprise First of Year, I held my gaze until it circled north out of view.

A little farther down, I heard strange squealing. On cue, two more sapsuckers appeared, an adult male and an immature. The immature, for whatever reason, wanted to bother the adult, but the latter wanted nothing to do with former and chased the youngin’ away. They disappeared not long after.

As soon as I approached the West Trail junction, I heard a loud mew practically next to my ear. Another adult sapsucker was foraging a few feet away from at eye level. He, too, disappeared shortly, not liking my next-door presence.

At the northwest corner of the pond, a few spring peepers peeped. One more Chipping Sparrow prattled, or perhaps two. Two male cardinals chased after each other. A female chipped nervously, her crest up and tail wagging slowly. Since pines and other evergreens grow here, I kept my ears open for Pine Warbler. Other birders observed them over the weekend. I wasn’t about to make assumptions since I’m still confused about the different between chipping sparrow and pine warbler. I know chipping sparrow, but not the pine warbler so confidently.

I walked to the end of the dock located at the northern side. I’d been hearing Canada Geese for nearly all of my walk so far. I saw not one Mallard or American Black Duck, or even a Hooded Merganser. The Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers sighted over the weekend moved on rather quickly. The pond was still. As I searched for any obscured ducks, I barely caught an Osprey producing a prodigious splash as it successfully snatched a fish. The Osprey flew to a snag by the Lab to eat its brunch.

Continuing on Wilson north, I walked into a burst of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. My tally increased rapidly as they dashed from branch to branch, tree to tree. A Brown-headed Cowbird sang from the canopy. A robin searched for food by the stream. A Cayuga Bird Club member was walking the trail from the other direction. We exchanged our sightings and chatted for a bit. I felt slightly downcast about my Pine Warbler, but I hoped to see the Palm Warbler she had just earlier.

After we parted ways, I went to the Sherwood Observation Platform behind the Lab. Two phoebes flycatched next to the platform. A couple frogs (toads?) sounded from behind the reeds. As I left, I heard an unfamiliar call. I didn’t see the bird that produced that call, but a Swamp Sparrow ventured out (another First of Year) to forage along the pond’s edge, next to the lawn, only about four feet away from me. I watched it for a long moment. I was lucky to get a good look at such a cooperative Swamp and noted its diagnostic marks.

Nearing the front of the Lab and back to where I began, I gave up on my Palm Warbler. I left happy with quite a number of observations: sparrow diversity, a surprise Broad-wing and Osprey, several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers of various ages and plumage, and a couple movements of Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets. The fact that the weather was finally spring-like helped a little!

You can view my eBird list here.